Stay Safe in the Summer Heat

— Written By and last updated by Patricia Burch

It’s almost the end of June and Sampson County has already experienced several days of heat indexes over 94 degrees. The dog days of summer are rapidly approaching and county residents should begin thinking about protecting themselves from the sun and extreme heat. In a recent study, the North Carolina State Health Department (NCSHD) determined that Sampson County is rated in the top 3 counties in North Carolina for heat vulnerability, which means more people are being seen or admitted to local hospitals for heat related illness. The Center for Disease Control reports more people die from heat waves each year than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined. Let’s plan accordingly for this year’s heat and avoid becoming a statistic.

Sunburn is defined as red, painful skin that feels hot to the touch, it usually appears within a few hours after too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from sunshine. To avoid sunburn plan accordingly and try to schedule work in the morning and afternoon hours. A good rule of thumb is to go indoors if your shadow is shorter than you are (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.). This time frame is when the sun is higher in the sky and UV rays are most abundant. If you can’t avoid being outdoors during this time, apply sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 repeatedly during the day.

Published medical studies find that most people apply only ½ to ⅓ of the recommended dose of sunscreen, and to make matters worse, many fail to reapply sunscreen even when they continue to stay in the sun. Wear sun protective clothing. There are many brands of SPF 100 clothing that protects from head to toe. Newer styles are ventilated for air flow, and are soft and light as silk. They provide up to 98% sun protection for all day long protection.

Heat cramps are painful, involuntary muscle spasms that usually occur during heavy exercise or labor in hot environments. The spasms may be more intense and more prolonged than are typical nighttime leg cramps. Fluid and electrolyte loss often contribute to heat cramps.

If you experience heat cramps, rest briefly and cool down. Drink clear juice or electrolyte sports drinks to rehydrate your body. Stretch and massage affected area and do not resume strenuous activity for several hours after the symptoms go away. If heat cramps continue over an hour, call your doctor.

Heat exhaustion symptoms may include heavy sweating and a rapid pulse, fatigue, dizziness, fainting, and nausea. Causes of heat exhaustion include exposure to high temperatures, particularly when combined with high humidity, and strenuous physical activity. Without prompt treatment, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, a life-threatening condition. If you begin to experience any of these symptoms, stop what you are doing and find a cool place to rest. Hydrate yourself with clear juice or electrolyte sports drinks. Loosen any tight fitting clothing and place cool, water soaked towels on your skin. If possible, take a cool shower to bring down your body’s temperature.

Heatstroke is a condition caused by your body overheating, usually as a result of prolonged exposure or physical exertion in high temperatures. This most serious form of heat injury can occur if your body temperature rises to 104 F or higher. Heatstroke requires emergency treatment. Untreated heatstroke can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. The damage worsens the longer treatment is delayed, increasing your risk of serious complications or death. Symptoms include high body heat, altered mental state or behavior, nausea, flushed skin, rapid breathing, high pulse, headache, and an alteration in sweating.

If you think you or another person may be experiencing heatstroke, seek immediate medical help. Call 911 or your local emergency services number. Take immediate action to cool the overheated person while waiting for emergency treatment. Move to shade or an indoor cool area and remove excess clothing. Cool the body temperature down with whatever means available; a cool tub of water, cool shower, garden hose, sponge with cool water, ice packs or cold wet towels placed on the head, neck, armpits and groin.

Be safe during extreme temperatures, keep your eye on the local weather reports, and work smarter, not harder. For more information contact the Sampson County Cooperative Extension Service located at 55 Agriculture Place, Clinton (910)592-7161.